Getting an early start

HOUGHTON – Cognition researchers and educators understand that for a child to do well throughout his or her school experience, it’s important for that child to learn how to learn as early as possible. That is the focus of an effort by the BHK Child Development Board and the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative.

Cathy Benda, CCGSC director, said the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder has taken the initiative in encouraging parents to get their children into a quality pre-kindergarten program.

“There’s been a real commitment from the state and the governor to address universal pre-school programs and kindergarten readiness,” she said. “Great Start Collaborative has been asked by the state to convene a school-readiness work group.”

The work group will include educators and parents, Benda said. The group will work on issues affecting parents and children locally.

“The main objective is that kids are ready to succeed in school at time of entry,” she said. “That’s what we want and that’s what the state wants.”

The purpose of the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative is to provide children from birth to 5 years old the support they need to properly develop physically, emotionally and cognitively. The BHK Child Development Board provides programs for children from birth to 5 years old, including Head Start and Early Head Start.

On Friday, Benda said the CCGSC will offer an in-service pilot program for pre-school and kindergarten teachers to create a bridge between the two school years. Nine schools will be taking part in the pilot program, with the intent of expanding it for the following school year.

Parents are very much a part of the new initiative to get children ready for kindergarten, Benda said.

“The second thing we were looking at is how can we create transitions between pre-school and kindergarten for parents,” she said.

The third part of the new program involves BHK and efforts to recruit children into various pre-schools, Benda said.

“What are we doing to get the word out about these wonderful, high quality programs for their children?” she asked.

Although getting children ready for kindergarten by providing programs from birth to 5 years old is part of the mission of the CCGSC, Benda said creating the bridge from pre-school to kindergarten is new.

“Now, the state is asking us to go from 0 to 8,” she said. “We’re creating a new, seamless system.”

The school readiness work group is the new part of the organization’s efforts, Benda said.

Cheryl Mills, BHK Early Head Start/Head Start director, said money for the expanded effort to prepare children for kindergarten will be available.

“There is more funding they’re considering for those 4 year olds that have the Great Start readiness program,” she said. “We still have our stable funding for Head Start and Early Head Start.”

Mills said BHK has been reaching out to educators regarding school readiness, Mills said.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been working to build better opportunities in the community and partner better with child care providers … to build higher quality experiences for children, not just within BHK,” she said.

Mills said research shows children who are ready socially, emotionally and physically to move into the school environment do better academically and are more likely to go on to post-secondary education.

“Bridging all those systems of education, the better off children will be,” she said.

The federal Head Start program has defined when a child is ready to enter kindergarten, Mills said.

“They define it as when the child possesses the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for learning,” she said.

Gwenn Elmblad, BHK education coordinator, said she can recommend to parents local pre-school programs, which are rated high for quality.

Benda said it’s important for parents to apply to whatever pre-school they choose as soon as possible for next fall’s classes.

Mills said BHK is taking applications now for all of its programs, including pre-kindergarten.

“The sooner we get apps in, the sooner parents know what is the fall going to look like for them and their family,” she said.

Benda said BHK and CCGSC are working to get parents to think about pre-school in the same way they think about kindergarten.

“Let’s not just look at kindergarten,” she said.

For more information about pre-kindergarten programs, call Cheryl Mills or Gwenn Elmblad at 482-3663. Private pre-school programs should be contacted individually to learn what they require for submitting applications. Information about the Great Start to Quality Upper Peninsula Resource Center pre-school programs can be found online at greatstartquality. org.